Course:FRST270/Wiki Projects/Community-based mangrove forest management in villages in the Sundarbans Bangladesh
Community-based mangrove forest management: A case study of villages in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh
As the largest natural mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans Mangrove Forest (SMF) is one of the major economic sources for local forest-dependent communities’ livelihoods. However, doubts on the sole management by the Bangladesh Forest Department and the inappropriate state property regime have been raised due to the continuous degradation. Thus, this case study examines challenges and problems that community-based mangrove forest management is facing in terms of forest-dependent communities (FDCs) in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh. It explores the relationship and conflicts among different stakeholders, such as local FDCs, Bangladesh Forest Department, and multilateral institutions (e.g. World Bank). Also, this case study compares a range of factors that may influence policy failures and tenure changes by collecting information from many other types of research, surveys, and documents. More participation, co-management, and power-sharing for local FDCs are supposed to be achieved to promote the sustainability of the community-based mangrove forest management.
The Sundarbans Reserve Forest
The Sundarbans Reserve Forest (SRF) in the southwestern Bangladesh is the largest natural mangrove forest in the world, which locates in the delta on the Bay of Bengal (Figure 1) . The three main districts in the SRF (Khulna, Satkhira, and Bagerhat) covers an area of about 601,700 ha, accounting for 40% of the total forest land in Bangladesh. Such a large area of forest land contains over 1,000 species including plants, fish, birds, and mammals. Therefore, because of the high biodiversity and abundant forest resources, the SRF shows extremely high ecological and economic values. In reality, the forest resources are of vital importance to local communities, since there are approximately 3.5 million villagers depending on the livelihoods provided by the SRF.
Since 1995, considerable local communities have been negatively affected due to the declaration of a 10 km long Ecological Critical Area (ECA) band by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Also, in 1999, the SRF was declared as a World Heritage Site by the government of Bangladesh together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is understandable that the ecological values of the SRF need to be protected, yet the past 20 years witnessed an over 50% reduction of tree density in the ECA. As a result, the continuous degradation has been a major problem for maintaining the ecosystem functions as well as its output. Primarily, there are two main factors that can cause this massive degradation. First, even though the forest has been identified as ECA and World Heritage Site, many forest-dependent communities still tend to overuse the forest resources due to the inefficient management of the government. Second, although the Forest Department (FD) has been implementing multiple forest plans, the decline of SRF is still continuing because of the ineffective enforcement. What should be noticed is that the real problem behind the inefficient management is the exclusionary practices brought about by the original state property rights regime. The severe conditions, therefore, forced the Forest Department to reconsider the role of local communities in the management of SRF.
Back in the 1990s, more than 50% of the forest lands in the SRF were monitored to be of no tree cover. This reduction is partially caused by the conversion of shrimp farms. More specifically, local people have converted about 3,000 ha of forest lands to shrimp farms during that period. In order to reduce the degradation of forests and improve the forest cover, the government of Bangladesh introduced the participatory forest management into the Sundarbans in the year 1994. After the introduction of participatory forest management, large-scale afforestation programs were implemented from 1994 to 2000. Of all the total forests, the Forest Department owns about 9.5%, and 55% of them is under the "jurisdiction of district administrations". However, the participatory forest management did not engage local communities because the government of Bangladesh set many protected areas (Figure 2) in the SRF to conserve the wildlife, thus excluding and restricting many villagers in the practices.
|Forest Name||Area (ha.)||Year of Establishment|
|Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuary||31,227||1960/1996|
|Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuary||71,502||1996|
|Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary||36,970||1996|
There are five administrative districts—Bagerhat, Borguna, Khulna, Satkhira, and Pirojpur—in the SRF, and many forest-dependent communities (FDCs) live in the northern areas (Figure 2). For the villages in the SRF, there are five major groups among the villagers: (1) “Bawalis (woodcutters)”, (2) “Chunaries (Oyster collectors)”, (3) “Munda (one indigenous community)”, (4) “Mawalis (honey collectors)”, and (5) “Fishers (fish and crab harvesters)” . Local people use various mangrove forest resources to support their lives. More specifically, there are five major mangrove forest resources that local people would collect: (1) fish, (2) crabs, (3) honey and bee wax, (4) Nipa leaves, and (5) timber .
It should be noted that villagers in the SRF region are confronted with numerous challenges regarding health and sanitation due to the low income and education level. Therefore, “income sources diversification” and “alternative income generating activities” are used by them as two main strategies to tackle the problems. For the income sources, they can be divided into legal and illegal categories. For example, honey, golpata (leaves of nipa palm), Malia grass, crabs, and fish are legal, while shrimp fry, fuelwood collection is illegal. Although some resources are prohibited by authorities, many local people would still harvest them due to the fact that most of their forest income was from illegal forest products. In addition, the inequality between different income level groups also forced lower-income households to harvest illegal products. For example, higher income groups can get greater benefits and profits by lending money to other groups for harvesting shrimp fry and selling them to areas outside of SRF region.
Villages in this case study include:
- Village Bally II of Bidya range: Bally and Bijoynagar
- These two villages were surrounded by the tidal river.
- Village Dulki of Sajnakhali range: Dulki
- There is not enough electricity can be used for local people.
- Village Anpur of Sajnakhali range: Hamiltonabad (village Anpur)
- Village Dumuria and Vamia of Satkhira district.
Policy changes before introducing the community forestry
(1) 1526-1765: Mughal period
During this period, agricultural cultivation was the main activity in the SRF region. Also, there was no comprehensive forest policy in this period. Because at that time, the SRF region was mainly for early human settlement. Local communities were encouraged to collect forest resources by authorities. For example, local people were allowed to clear-cut the forest. Thus, due to the lack of strict regulations, local people were treating the forest as a "public good". The SRF was therefore under the “state and open access regimes”, which means it was used for harvesting and agricultural uses.
(2) 1765-1947: British Period
In general, the SRF region experienced major policy changes in this period caused by the invasion of "East India Company".
- 1765-mid 1800s: The SRF was overused due to shipbuilding as well as massive railway establishment.
- In 1793: The "Zamindary system", a kind of “landlordship”, was introduced in by the government. It should be noticed that this system was under the "British rule of Permanent Settlement Act".
- After 1813: Munda people went into the SRF to clear-cut the forest.
- In 1878: Due to the negative effect caused by Munda people, the "Finalization of the Forest Act" was declared to identify some area of the SRF (4856 ) as “protected forest”.
- In 1880: In order to protect the wildlife in the forest, multiple activities (e.g. hunting, fishing, shooting, etc.) were banned by the government.
- In 1894: "The National Forest Policy" was issued, which ensured local communities' basic interests and needs. The SRF was therefore under a state property rights regime.
(3) 1947-1971: Pakistan period
- In 1955: A new forest policy ("Forest Policy 1955") was declared to encourage “commercial exploitation”. This forest policy showed strict control of the government since there was no involvement of local communities. As a result, the number of illegal hunting and cutting cases were rising at that time.
- In 1962: The government revisited the first policy by focusing on five aspects: (1) Forestry, (2) Farm Forestry, (3) Soil conservation, (4) Range management, and (5) Watershed management. In this year, many new policies were formed by the government, such as the introduction of Farm Forestry, local communities’ needs and rights were actually “overlooked” in those policies.
(4) 1971-1993: Bangladesh period
- In 1973: "Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Order" was formed. Thus, the SRF was declared to be reserve forest to protect wildlife, which was under "the 1927 Forest Act".
- In 1979: "National Forest Policy" was enforced by the government. What should be noted is that “all government forests were declared to be national forests", which means that the authorities would not allow the SRF to be exploited by unauthorized users. Consequently, the Forest Department strictly restricted the local communities for using forest resources.
Policy changes after introducing the community forestry
(1) In 1994:
"National Forest Policy (Revisited)" was formed in this year hoping to the slow down the rate of degradation caused by previous inefficient management. After recognizing the severe condition, the participatory forest management practices were introduced in the SRF region. The aim of this policy was, therefore, to encourage local people to protect the forest. Theoretically, forest-dependent communities' interests and roles should be considered in this case. Yet, the government still regarded local people as a threat to conservation practices, thus excluding community members from the management.
(2) In 1996:
The "Government Notification" was issued, which was the modification based on the "Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Order". This Notification took the wildlife sanctuaries into consideration and identified the SRF as protected forest. Thus, extraction technology was controlled by the Forest Department in order to protect the environment, since many protected areas were established. Similar to the "National Forest Policy" in 1994, the Notification was supposed to involve local people in the community-based mangrove forest management due to the government set the target of achieving sustainability in the long-term. However, forest-dependent communities' access to the forest was still limited by the Forest Department. Also, it should be noted that this Notification did not show clear property rights regarding local people, which means that the customary rights of local people were not admitted by the government.
Tenure and Administrative Arrangements
Basically, there are two major types of forests in terms of tenure arrangements. One is the national forest controlled by the Forest Department, and the other is the private forest. Also, it should be noticed that the Forest Department did not admit the customary rights of local people.
Traditionally, the forest-dependent communities have been using and managing the SRF for numerous years before the government of Bangladesh was established. Yet with the changes in ruling authorities, local people's customary rights were not recognized by the government of Bangladesh. As a result, in the 1970s, the Forest Department claimed the state ownership of the SRF and declared that all the forests should be national forests. Generally, the Forest Department controlled the tenure arrangements by issuing permits to outsiders:
Outsiders such as villagers can collect honey, bee wax, Nypa fruticans, Phoenix paludosa, and other forest resources by getting the annual permit issued by Forest Department. However, even though people may get the permit for collecting forest resources, there have been many problems in this process. More specifically, although the annual permit was given to villagers, the actual permitted time for getting into the forest may still be very short. In more practical terms, the honey collectors were only given a 15-day permit, which was clearly not enough for them to collect the honey and support their households. Also, because of this short period, local people have to find other ways to make income. In many cases, local people would try to go into the forest to collect the product ignoring the permit, thus leading to illegal harvest. Apart from the issue that time period is too short, the number of permits issued by the Forest Department was also questioned by many villagers. Honey collection permit, for instance, the Forest Department only issued 1000 permits for all the honey collectors.
Considerable management practices under this state ownership can reflect the fact that the Forest Department would practice conservation alone instead of engaging local people. Since 1971, the government of Bangladesh believed that local people cannot be positive in the conservation and thus adopted the idea formed during the colonial period that the local people should be excluded from entering the forest. The limitations could lie in many aspects. For example, in order to protect the wildlife habitat, the Forest Department has been restricting the harvest of many forest resources. The Forest Department announced that tannin bark, Nypa fruticans, lime, fuelwood and small boles, and poles are prohibited for harvest. After this announcement, Nypa fruticans has also been banned for harvest in 1978 by the government. Thirteen years later, the Forest Department restricted the harvest of Phoenix paludosa as well. Fishing has also been facing many limitations. The boats are required by the government to be registered at the Forest Department, and the fishers are only allowed to harvest in the core area after the establishment of the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve.
After the community forestry was introduced in the SRF in 1994 because of the "National Forest Policy", some forest area should be collectively owned by the forest-dependent communities according to the policy. However, the Forest Department has been denying their ownership of the forest and issued the permit for “ordinary forest users” for the community members to collect non-timber forest products (NTFPs). Many problems before introducing the community forestry in the SRF still exist. For instance, villagers can get into the forest by paying more money during the “restricted period”. Also, there is no reporting system for villagers to give feedback on the community forestry, even though they may like to report the damages to the forest caused by the unsustainable forest management. Although the tenure and administrative arrangements are still controlled by the government, the role of forest-dependent communities was improved to some extent based on this new policy. For example, local villagers can sell NTFPs (e.g. honey and golpata) to “local elites” or sell them to other areas. Besides, many local people can be hired as NTFPs collectors (wage labors) by mohajons (local money lenders/middlemen) to enhance their household income level.
Property Rights Regime and Bundle of Rights
- Even though the community forestry was introduced in the SRF, the local government is the one deciding who can get access to the forest and how they can extract the forest resources.
- Only some forest-dependent communities that selected by the government can have the property rights of “access” and “withdrawal”.
- Authorized users, such as villagers with permits, can only get access to and also withdraw the property. Compared to the villagers, the real owners (usually the Forest Department) can get access to, withdraw, manage, exclude, and even alienate the property. Under this circumstance, it should be noticed that the property rights can be absent in "common pool resources” (e.g. the SRF), because the government can play the role of the owner and the manager in the same time. Such inequality may, therefore, lead the forest-dependent communities to treat the SRF as open access.
- The current property rights regime is designed for the strict control of the government (i.e. Forest Department).
- This unequal relationship under the property rights regime between the Forest Department and forest-dependent communities can reinforce the unsustainable management of the SRF, which would increase the difficulties for achieving the sustainability in the long-term.
|Affected stakeholders||Main relevant objectives||Relative power|
|Wood cutters||Gain access to the forest and cut the wood||Low|
|Oyster collectors||Collect oysters||Low|
|Honey collectors||Collect honey in the forest||Low|
|Fishers and crab harvesters||Collect fish, shrimps, and crabs||Low to medium
(Their income level is relatively higher than other groups.)
|Interested stakeholders||Main relevant objectives||Relative power|
|Small Mohajons (Money lenders)||-Lend money to villagers;
-Purchase products form villagers and sell them to other traders.
(They are also dependent on the villagers.)
|Gher Owners||-Purchase shrimps and invest money to the collectors.||Medium to high|
|Upazila Administration||-Management of Khas jalmohal and leasing||Medium|
|Union Parishad||-Management of Khas jalmohal (small size) and leasing||Medium|
|Department of Fisheries||-In charge of fisheries management;
-Control the permit of fishers;
|Medium to high|
|Department of Environment||-In charge of resource management;
-Maintain natural flow of rivers;
-Monitor the environment (e.g. tree density changes);
|Medium to high|
|Forest Department||-Biodiversity conservation;
-Convert degraded forests;
-Provide sustained forest products to local people;
-Conduct meetings with Co-Management Committee;
-Derive maximum economic benefits from forest products;
-Protect wildlife (e.g. set wildlife sanctuaries);
(Forest Department can strictly controll the management of forest.)
(e.g. Co-Management Committee, Co-Management Organization)
|-Help coordinate with Forest Department to conduct meetings with local people||Medium|
(e.g. UNESCO, UNDP, SEALS, etc.)
|-Continue the protection; Monitor the environment;
-Provide micro-benefit to local people.
|Medium to high|
The aims and intentions of the community forestry project
Forest Department has implemented multiple projects to enhance participatory forest management practices in the SRF for over 20 years. Basic objectives of these participatory forestry projects are as follows:
- “To convert the existing irregular forests into normal ones with better species.”
- “To provide a sustained supply of forest products to meet the demand of agriculture and industries.” 
- “To meet the demand of forest produce of the local population.” 
- “To prevent denudation of the hills and the consequent erosion of the soil so as to maintain natural ﬂow of rivers and streams.” 
- “To derive maximum economic beneﬁts out of a given tract of forests.” 
- “To provide forest cover for preservation and propagation of wildlife.”
It should be noticed that the primary goal of these projects is to tackle the problem of degradation as the first objective suggests. For example, the government implemented many afforestation programs along the coast of SRF. Also, these objectives reflect the industrial values of the Forest Department to some extent, since the projects are designed to boost economic benefits. Even though local people’s demand for forest projects is also considered in these objectives, they can still be regarded by the government to be a threat to the conservation practices.
For NGOs, their aims and intentions in the community forestry project are different from those of Forest Department. Representative NGOs such as Co-Management Committee are centering on helping build connections between villagers and the government. While intermediary NGOs such as BRAC and RDRS have provided villagers with many plantation programs to help them derive additional economic benefits. In addition, UNESCO mainly focused on coordinating with the government to build conservation areas in the SRF.
Assessment of relative success or failures
In general, the community-based mangrove forest management in this case study failed in engaging forest-dependent communities in the practices, and it also faces various challenges and problems. The primary target for introducing the community forestry project is to achieve sustainability in the SRF. Yet the community forestry practices did not improve the situation where the forest continuously degraded. Even though the Forest Department together with many NGOs has implemented multiple programs to enhance this community forestry, the top-down decision-making process of the government was ineffective in protecting the forest. In more practical terms, the government decided (1) who can get access to the forest and (2) how to extract the resources. Such decisions showed the strict control of the government as well as the exclusion of local people. Thus, this unequal relationship perpetuated the failure of the forest management practices, since the customary rights of villagers were not admitted by the government.
Additionally, there are many other factors that can negatively affect the community forestry project. For example, the benefit-sharing system is in favor of the government. Local communities lost income sources from the forest products because of the strict control of the government. Therefore, they may treat the SRF as an open access, harvest the products illegally, and overuse forest resources as well. As a result, it could be increasingly hard for Forest Department to cooperate with local people.
Critical issues or conflicts
Conflicts were caused mainly because local communities treated the SRF as an open access since their customary rights were not acknowledged by the government. More specifically, Forest Department asked villagers to pay “duty charge” during the period of collecting NTFPs. Therefore, the “duty charge” led to the overuse as well as illegal harvesting in the SRF. Also, Forest Department is confronted with serious corruption problems. Moreover, the corruption of Forest Department reinforced the illegal collection due to the doubts and mistrust of villagers .
The participation level of local communities can be another major concern in this case study. Many socioeconomic factors (e.g. age, gender, education level, income, etc.) can contribute to the low participation in the co-management. More specifically, household size and income showed positive impacts on participating in the co-management, since a household’s dependence is related to the engagement of practices . Larger families seem to depend on the forest resources more . Dwelling type and education level, however, showed negative impacts . For example, local community members that have more education will better understand the advantages and disadvantages of conservation practices in SMF. Also, it should be noted that current property rights regime does not allow FDCs to have “alternative livelihood opportunities”. Thus, villagers with more education can be more likely to harvest more forest resources.
In this case study, the power of affected stakeholders (forest-dependent communities) is relatively lower than that of interested stakeholders (Forest Department and NGOs). Different social actors hold different perceptions of the community forest management, which showed the inequality of power distribution. Generally, the government controlled the forest by regarding villagers as a threat to conservation practices. Thus, villagers were excluded from the co-management of the forest, even though they would like to participate in the community forestry. Local people perceived the top-down approaches of the Forest Department as the major reason for limiting their access to the forest as well as causing the forest degradation . Also, due to the low power, local communities cannot get enough economic benefits from the forest resources .
Compared to local communities and the Forest Department, NGOs’ power is in the middle. They argued that local people should have higher involvement. Although they cannot make decisions directly, they can arrange meetings with local people to collect villagers’ feedback. In addition, they can also provide local people with other benefits by introducing in plantation programs. Thus, it can be easier for villagers to build trust with NOGs instead of the government .
Local communities’ perception on community forestry
- Villagers have the strong desire in participating in the community-based mangrove forest management.
- Many communities believe that the sole management of the Forest Department is not able to meet the demand and needs of their lives .
- They believe that the Forest Department limited their access to the forest (only 52% of people can gain the rights of access and withdrawal).
- Also, corruption in the government is regarded by villagers as one of the main reasons for the degradation and reduction of tree density.
- They think that current policies on conservation cannot reach long-term targets, such as improving the tree density and protecting endangered species .
- Transparency issues of the Forest Department needs to be solved since villagers cannot make decisions on managing NTFPs .
Forest Department’s perception on community forestry
- They argued that current forest management should exclude local forest-dependent communities because they thought that local villagers may only care about withdrawing NTFPs instead of protecting forests .
- In addition, biodiversity should be maintained through top-down and strict regulations, which means unauthorized people cannot get access to the Ecological Critical Area .
- They believed that their traditional plans (i.e. top-down processes) were the most supportive practices in terms of protecting wildlife and forest resources .
NGOs’ perception on community forestry
- Many NGOs also agree with villagers that policies on co-management should consider FDCs’ basic needs .
- The FDCs should be involved to enhance their livelihood diversification .
- There can be many educational programs offered by the authority to strengthen local communities' understanding of conservation, thus preparing them for future participation .
- Co-management plans should be implemented with a better partnership between the Forest Department and forest-dependent communities .
Overall, the recommendations for the community-based mangrove forest management in this case study are based on the changes to current property rights regime. Because the engagement of local people can be critical to the success of community forestry projects. Thus, the strategies to improve current community forest management are as follows:
For the government of Bangladesh, I recommend that the officials should consider:
- First of all, the "alternative property rights regime of co-management” should be introduced in to increase the role of local communities.More specifically, this alternative property rights regime should recognize the collective ownership of local community members. Also, I would suggest that the villagers should be allowed to not only get access to and withdrawal the forest resources but also have the rights to manage the forest resources in the long term. By introducing the alternative property rights regime, the government and forest-dependent communities can, therefore, co-manage the SRF. Such co-management will improve current commodity chains of NFTPs since local communities will have better decision-making power in sales and management.
- Communication should be based on an effective mechanism that improves current benefit-sharing system. Because the current benefit-sharing system is centered on the values and profits of the government. The amount of economic benefits that would eventually flow into local communities is much lower than that of the Forest Department and forest companies. Thus, it is critical to building such a communication system among different stakeholders that can strengthen the information and knowledge that local communities can receive and understand.
- Also, the reporting system should be built together with the communication mechanism for local communities to better communicate with the Forest Department and other institutions.
- Top-down policies should be replaced by bottom-up approaches, which means local people need to share more power in decision-making processes.
- Co-management should focus on building trust, sharing power, and establishing mutual interests between different groups. It is noticeable that many conflicts can be resulted from not trusting other stakeholders. For instance, the Forest Department regarded local people as a threat to conservation, thus excluding them from the management. Also, the villagers did not regard the government as a trustworthy partner and broke many regulations about collecting NTFPs. Therefore, the co-management should share more information and mutual benefits to help build trust among different stakeholders.
For local and international institutions, I recommend that they should consider:
- Community institutions (e.g. Forest Protection Committees) should be formed to tackle the problems and conflicts. From the case study in India, village institutions were formed under the Joint Forest Program (JFP) to mitigate the conflict between the government and local people . Additionally, these community institutions can also increase the awareness that local people and the government actually share the responsibility of protection. Thus, I would suggest that more community institutions should be formed to improve the equality of community forest projects.
- More conservation initiatives (e.g. Global Environment Facility’s Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihood Program) should be introduced in to help enhance current participatory forest management as well as the management of livelihoods.
- International NGOs should take a lead in helping local communities. For example, it could be easier for international NGOs to build trust by offering local people with micro-benefit programs that can improve the diversity of income sources. Moreover, in the case study of Indonesia, the government followed the step of international NGOs to establish a better community forest management. Because international NGOs can be relatively more easily than the government to initiate multiple programs, such as plantation programs, that can benefit local people more directly.
For forest-dependent communities, I recommend that they should consider:
- Local villagers should work with local community institutions such as Co-Management Committee more often, which would allow them to establish a better reporting system.
- Besides, I would suggest that local people should improve their participation in the micro-benefit programs to diversify the income sources.
- Based on the management plan in the Sundarbans, it may be possible for local communities to develop ecotourism which can increase their income level while participating in the conservation practices.
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|This conservation resource was created by Qi, Yangqian (49806060).|
|This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST270.|